Every new arrival wants to know if they can survive or live well in Thailand on X thousand baht a month?

It's a difficult question because each person has different needs. However, the following surveys and figures are from teachers actually working here! How much do they earn and what do they spend their money on?. And after each case study, I've added comments of my own.

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Approximate Thai Baht (฿) conversion rates as of 27th September 2020

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Bob

Working in Cambodia

Monthly Earnings 50,000 baht (equivalent)

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I earn 38,750 for my full-time job. Then I make an extra 2,000 from private lessons (90 minutes a week and charged per number of students) Online stuff nets me another 8,000 or so.

Coronavirus has meant my salary has been cut to 20,000. I've been on 50% pay since March but that will hopefully rise to 70% in September. It wasn't too bad as I was essentially being paid to do nothing. The private lessons and online work kept going (although with fewer students and less online stuff)

My wife works for the state and her exact income is a mystery to me, but I guess it's around 10,000 baht.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

Not much at all because we have two kids. Probably 6,000 - 7,000 if I'm lucky.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I was lucky enough to get a mortgage loan some years ago and we built a property. By working extra hours, I was able to pay the mortgage off in a few years, so now at least we have a decent roof over our heads (100 square metres with a garden) We have also bought several plots of land with low interest rate loans and they amount to around 6,500 a month.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I own several motorbikes so use those for transport. Work is not too far away and I rarely venture further than the local market. Maybe 300-500 baht on gas, which is cheap here at the moment.

Utility bills

Electricity can cost up to 2,000 baht a month. We run one air-con unit for the kids at night and also run the washing machine and electric oven quite a lot. Water costs about 150 baht.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I eat breakfast every morning which is 62 baht, plus I'll have a Western coffee once or twice a day, That adds another 80 baht.

I buy cheese, sausage, etc online and that's usually around 1,500 a month, then the odd Chinese or Indian meal for 600-700. We had to cut back on 'extras' due to the Coronavirus, but generally spend 200-300 baht a day on meat and vegetables from the local market to feed a family of four.

Fresh milk is a big expense and costs up to 1,000 a month. Baby formula is even more expensive at way over 3,000.

This lot adds up to around 20,000 each month.

Nightlife and drinking

I don't really go out but do like a drink (too much if truth be told). Beer in cans is cheap here and the cans have 'winning ring-pulls'. For every 370 baht spent on a case of 24 beers, you can get anywhere between 5-24 free cans depending on luck. I probably spend about 2,000 a month on beer. The ale flows pretty freely with guests and neighbors in both directions, and in the good days before Coronavirus, I'd also do 600 baht on a box of wine and maybe 400 baht on a good bottle of brandy every month.

I gave up smoking but foolishly got addicted to vaping (which is not strictly legal in Cambodia) The e-cigs set me back about 3,000 a month.

Books, computers

I miss books!

The internet is pretty good just using a mobile data plan. Special packages mean I pay less than 150 a month and can stream, do my internet work and listen to the radio all day everyday, without ever needing a router.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

It's not luxurious but we're surviving. Kids cost money! That much I do know.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Hard to give a definition of 'bargain' here as salaries are much lower than in Thailand and Vietnam. Also, most things are imported from outside so more expensive than the country of origin. Beer is certainly cheaper than in Thailand (but not Vietnam).

Compared to my own country, it's certainly cheaper to buy land and build a modest home in Cambodia.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

Average salaries for Westerners here start at 20,000 baht and go up to around 70,000, depending on your qualifications, but those kind of pay packets are rare. I'd say 30,000 baht is the bare minimum. I've been here a long time and earned a lot less and a lot more than 30K in those years.

Frankly, I'm happy to work for less money and live away from the capital in order to keep the costs down.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks a lot Bob. We haven't received surveys from many teachers in Cambodia but a pleasure to do so. I think you are doing well supporting a family on 60,000 baht a month (taking into account your wife's income) and you've managed to build a house and invest in some land at the same time. It's not a luxurious lifestyle as you readily admit, but I'm sure the family is the most important thing to you and you sound very well settled.  


Lisa

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 50,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

My full-time salary from a private school is 47,000 and I make 3,000 a month teaching a private student once a week.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I save around 15,000 each month.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

Rent is 9,500 per month. I live in a 26 sqm condo that has a swimming pool, gym, sauna and a basketball court in the complex.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

Around 500 baht per month, if not less. I usually walk to work as it's only around a 10-minute walk. Alternatively, I take a songteaw or if I'm running late, a motorcycle taxi.

Utility bills

Water and electricity costs me around 1,500 each month.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

My job serves really good food - morning snacks, a variety of meals at lunch and if I truly can't have anything on offer, the salad bar is my friend. My monthly groceries total to around 2,000 and I usually eat takeouts on the weekends, which can cost up to 4,000.

Nightlife and drinking

I only go out once a month. Drinks are expensive here and on a typical night out I end up blowing 2,000 on drinks and maybe another 1,000 on entry fees and taxis.

Books, computers

I spend 500 on Netflix and 500 for the wifi connection in my condo. English books are pricey here and I usually get books to keep from people passing through.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

My standard of living is great, but that is primarily due to the benefits of my job.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

The food is cheap and filling! It also tastes amazing.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

It depends on your lifestyle, I live a pretty basic lifestyle where I'm not out partying all the time so I could "survive" on less, maybe 35,000.

Phil's analysis and comment

I was going to say Lisa, you sound like someone who lives a 30K a month lifestyle and yet earns 50,000. You are living within your means and that's what it's all about. 


Christopher

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 38,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

My job income after tax is about 36,600 baht. I also have savings (made in the USA over the years) and other alternative (digital) investments

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

Since I:
- am not a materialist (don't buy stuff)
- don't care about other people's opinions
- am not much for night life (night clubs, rooftop bars, etc.)
- don't care about the high-life (been there, done that)
- don't travel much (but still go to pattaya, hua hin for bi-monthly trips)
- walk a lot
I can actually save at least 10,000 baht per month. If you have self-discipline and think smart, it is possible. Furthermore, I don't have kids and my Thai girlfriend is pretty low maintenance.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

12,000 baht per month for a decent condo with a clothes washer, small kitchen, a/c, smart tv, internet included, utility bills included,a private little backyard and garden.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

Under 2,000 baht per month (lots of walking, which is great for exercise purposes and economic benefits, etc.)

Utility bills

Included in the rent

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

8,000-10,000 baht per month. I don't ever cook home.

Nightlife and drinking

Zero

Books, computers

Computers purchased before arriving to Thailand

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Since I am not a needy person I have a lot of Power. The more you need out of life and other people, the less power you have. I really don't need a "high" standard of living.

Food quality is important. If you are smart you can get quality on the street if you look for it (ex. quality barbecue chicken at good prices, stay away from the rice and noodles, target foods dense with protein content). Also, I don't smoke, drink or do any drugs.

When I visit Pattaya, etc. I take the bus for 120 baht vs a taxi for over 1,000 baht. I stay at decent hotels/resorts but nothing over the top. I am pretty simple, so a decent meal(s) on the weekend at a good restaurant is enough for me to be content. Materialism and "fancy" experiences do nothing for me. On Sundays, I walk to JJ market for exercise and kebabs.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Food is cheap. Walking is cheaper.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

That depends on the individual. I can do just fine but I realize that I am different. However, I would say that my salary is the minimum requirement to get by on and have basic needs met and have a little entertainment money for a single "no strings attached" person.

Phil's analysis and comment

It sounds like you really enjoy walking. Me too. It's just a shame that Bangkok must be one of the worst cities in the world to indulge in that pastime. 


Morty

Working in HCMC, Vietnam

Monthly Earnings 160K

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

145K from full-time teaching and 15K from investment income.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

130k into a range of financial assets such as ETFs and crypto.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

7.5K for an apartment (bed n bog with air-con) and it's just one kilometre from work in the heart of the city. Like-for-like accommodation is more expensive than Thailand, but the higher salaries offset this. I'm sure it's more aligned with Thailand in the provinces.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

Zero. Bought a second hand rust-bucket bicycle for 1,000 baht and I cycle everywhere. Worth a mention that the Grab app is excellent and Grab taxis are cheap here.

Utility bills

Zero, because it's included in the rent. I run the air-con on 26 degrees pretty much constantly when I'm home.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I only eat out so never go to supermarkets. However, I mostly eat like the locals during the week so probably around 100 baht/evening. The school meal is free and I generally skip breakfast. I like a McDs breakfast on the weekend with the odd Indian thrown in for a treat. I'd say around 8,000 a month.

Nightlife and drinking

This used to be massive but now pretty much zero. However, I like massages on the weekends and I'd throw those into this bucket. So let's say 3,000. It should be noted that the nightlife is more sedated than Thailand. There's a chilled coffee-cafe scene here. It's kind of more laid back and more sabai - if that's even possible!

Books, computers

Zero. The 11k Acer laptop and 3k Samsung phone (bought on Lazada-Thailand in December 2017) are still going strong.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Excellent. I want for nothing. I normally have around 10,000 floating around to spend on whatever I want. If nothing presents itself, I just whack a wedge of bitcoin on the ledger.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

The food in Vietnam is great and possibly a shade cheaper than Thailand.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

I reckon a cool 30,000 would see you alright. That would provide a basic lifestyle and no savings, but, hey, you'd survive.

Phil's analysis and comment

Sounds like you're earning a great salary in a cheap place to live. That's a sure way to keep the bank balance healthy!

Could you even afford to splash out on a nicer bicycle? 


Peter

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 400k + benefits

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

This is a full time salary. I am the Principal of a good (but not top tier) international school in Bangkok. I am not allowed to take additional paid employment.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

At least 250k, most of which is invested in long term mutual funds to provide an income during retirement.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I live in a 2-bedroom 80 sqm condo next to Benjasiri park. Whilst the rent is paid directly by the school, it was advertised at 45k.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

Whilst the school provides a car, I rarely make use of it (except for trips outside Bangkok). I prefer to rely on trains and taxis and probably spend up to 5k in a regular month.

Utility bills

3k per month usually covers the electricity, water and internet. The school provides me with an unlimited mobile phone package.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Whilst (fairly decent) food is provided free at school, I do like to visit good restaurants in the evenings and on weekends. This is therefore my biggest monthly expense at approximately 40k

Nightlife and drinking

Working as a Principal means that I have to be discreet. Parents have conservative views about what my social life should entail. The position also means that going to the pub after work with colleagues is awkward. Fortunately, I have friends in Bangkok who I met outside of teaching, so I'm not too lonely. In short, there is almost no spending in this category.

Books, computers

School provides me with a desktop in my office and a laptop to take home. There is also an excellent library that all staff can access free of charge. So, zero spending here

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Whilst I work long hours compared to classroom teachers, I have an excellent standard of living. My rule is that I will work Saturdays when required (from home). I always keep Sundays and most of the school holidays for myself. My salary means that it is always possible to go somewhere nice during the end of term breaks (well it was until Corona).

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Tax. In the UK about 30% of my income was taken at source. In Thailand I pay approximately 15%

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

If you have no interest in saving or covering unexpected expenses, then I think 50k would cover a reasonable life in Bangkok. I am lucky that my job provides me with the power to save for retirement (10 years away). As I own no property, and received no inheritance, old age would be a worry without my salary.

Side note - I submitted this survey as I find them really interesting reads, but I haven't seen one from a Principal / Head of an international school. These salaries vary wildly. The range that I am aware of is 200k (I was offered this by a small but good British school) to almost a million baht (a friend earns this amount leading one the most prestigious schools in Bangkok).

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks a million, Peter. This is the first ever cost of living survey from an international school head teacher and like many others I'm sure, I've always been interested in how much they earn, Now we know. 400K a month. Wow!. And that's not taking into account all those lovely benefits such as having your 45K rent paid and being provided with a car, etc.

What I found most interesting is how tricky it is to enjoy a drink after work. I completely understand where you are coming from though. We've all had those nights where one drink turns into two and two turns into six. You have to be discreet in your position. It wouldn't bother me personally because I'm not much of a drinker these days but I wonder if the school frowning on boozy nights out would be a deal breaker for some?   

One thing's for sure, stashing away 250K a month, you've got a golden retirement ahead of you. It would be interesting to know what your plans are once you've turned your back on campus for good. Those long-term mutual funds are great investments! I only wish I had got into them sooner instead of taking terrible advice from a financial advisor here. My wife, who is far more knowledgeable about investments than me, puts all her spare cash into those funds. I always regret not listening to her advice years ago.


Showing 5 Cost of Living surveys out of 337 total

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